RICHMOND, Va. – It took Greg Gutierrez and a friend 50 hours, driving straight through, to get from California to Virginia for this year’s first Bass Pro Shops Northern Open on Virginia’s James River. That’s over 3,000 miles of time in the seat of his truck, pulling his Nitro, yet it seems as if his journey has just begun.
Gutierrez fished the Elite Series from 2006 through May 2008, before leaving to deal with a family health crisis. His career with B.A.S.S. had been short – just 59 events – but he packed it with enough accomplishments to know that he belonged: a gritty win at the 2004 Western Open on California’s Lake Shasta; two Bassmaster Classic appearances; and 3rd place finishes in Elite Series competition at Oklahoma’s Grand Lake in 2006 and at California’s Clear Lake in 2007.
Despite that track record of success, midway through 2008 he did not hesitate to abandon his Elite Series dreams when two cancerous masses were found in his wife Bobbie’s lungs.
“Everything was a rush,” he recalled. “Cancer had been in our family for so long that we knew we had to be very aggressive in treating it. Shortly after I got home, she went under the knife and lost half of one lung and a chunk of the other. It affected her heart, too, so we’ve been trying to get all of that squared away.”
The other complicating part of Gutierrez’s previous stint as an Elite Series pro was that unlike most of his colleagues he held a full-time job as a firefighter. He said that he doesn’t mean to downplay any other competitor’s obligations – family, promotional or otherwise – but even with an understanding supervisor, trying to balance the two careers proved tricky and costly.
“I had a great boss who would let me work extra days so I could build up enough time to fish,” he said. “But once I brought my boat back east I’d have to fly back and forth to make it work. It gave me a great platform to spread my fire safety program – fire safety is not a California thing. It’s possible [to fish the Elite Series and have a full-time job] if you have the support mechanisms in place. The biggest hindrance for me was financial. Fishing’s hard enough without any of those other pressures in place.”
Once he left the Elites, his sponsorship dollars largely dried up. He doesn’t blame the companies: “Sponsors are paying for a product,” he explained. “When I wasn’t at that level anymore, I was no longer valuable to them. The one company that did stand by me the whole time was Reaction Innovations.”
Now he’ll have to start building those sponsor relationships anew. At nearly 52 years old, he admitted that he’s “not a spring chicken” and that a lot of the younger up-and-coming pros “fit the mold a lot better,” but he believes he still has a lot to offer and is committed to building “a whole new stable.”